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The protagonists are Koot Hoomie "Kootie" Parganas and Pete "Teet" Sullivan. Kootie is an eleven-year old boy and Sullivan is a man in his early 40's. The novel takes place mostly in Los Angeles in the year 1992, and there are references to the United States presidential election.
The main antagonists are Sherman Oaks and Loretta deLarava. As in Last Call, the previous novel of Tim Powers' Fault Line series, a prominent theme is the quest for immortality. Oaks' age is unknown, deLarava's age is 76 (but she often appears to be younger); both have been prolonging their lives by ingesting ghosts. There is a magical system surrounding these ghosts - their behavior, how they are ingested, how to catch them so that they may be ingested, and even a mysterious market where the bottled ghosts are bought and sold. In their ready-to-be digested state, they are known as "smokes" or "cigars".
The narrative is propelled by this chase for ghosts. Koot Hoomie Parganas has unwittingly ingested the ghost of Thomas Edison. However, because Kootie hasn't yet reached puberty, he isn't able to digest it. In its undigested state, the ghost of Edison functions as a helper to Kootie. Because of Edison's powerful personality, this ghost is particularly sought after by both antagonists who wish to ingest it themselves. In addition, Loretta deLarava is pursuing the ghost of Pete Sullivan's father. If Loretta deLarava manages to capture Pete Sullivan, it will help her to locate Pete Sullivan's father's ghost, Arthur Patrick "Apie" Sullivan. Pete Sullivan has his own helper, a former psychiatrist named Angelica Anthem Elizalde. Loretta deLarava also pursues Solomon Shadroe. Shadroe is the former Nicky Bradshaw. Shadroe/Bradshaw is also a son of Arthur Patrick "Apie" Sullivan, albeit a godson. Shadroe/Bradshaw played "Spooky" in a fictional situation comedy called "Ghost of a Chance".